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Hil and I go for walks, like most people. One day on a walk we discussed the number of artists we were aware of in our area – touristy northern Devon. The point being they were scattered, struggling to get noticed, and brilliant. We don’t mean we just liked them. We knew from visiting art galleries and shows for over 30 years there is some real talent in these Devon river valleys. And we wanted to help them get noticed, have a proper income, and become a community. ArtMakers was born as an idea.

Moving from a wander along the Tarka Trail to a full-blown online sales and support system was not a quick stroll, in a park or anywhere else. There were the positive meetings with local arts organisations, the local University, and local authorities – all of which had no money! There was a failed grant application. Chance encounters with local artists and ceramicists took place. The moment when we thought this was probably not going to happen. Then the pandemic struck.

Every shop, café, exhibition space and gallery shut. So even when the tourists came, there was nowhere for them to buy local art. Add to this our knowledge, through our own research, that the area had a higher than average number of people on minimum wages, and things were looking bleak for art makers in northern Devon.

Then Innovate UK launched their Covid Sustainability grant scheme. A government backed tech orientated research body, an unlikely partner for a bunch of disparate artists and makers. However, we had a track record with them, and thought it was worth a punt. The application went in. We waited. It was rejected. Then a week later it was accepted – more money had been found!

Now the walks up and down our hill, yes we live on a hill, suddenly had more focus. We contacted Jess Pearson, a local film-maker, who agreed to join the team to help make Artmakers happen. Jess was born into the local arts community, runs ‘The Maker Series’ for artists and makers, and had the skills and time to help develop the new website. A perfect fit.

A web company in Leicester, Netready, who we had used for eight years on a previous project, were our web building partners. However, no one had a list of all the local artists and makers or knew precisely what they wanted. So first job: compile a data base! The latest national statistics suggested there were 100 local visual artists in the area. We found over 400 via arts groups, Facebook, personal contacts, and mailing lists.

Three surveys later with over ninety local artists and makers committed to helping develop the website we started the design, and we knew what the pressing needs were. We had thought we would start with a basic information-support service. It soon became clear, however, that selling was the big issue, and so sales became the first major focus of the development.

Three months on we are into alpha testing, with a UX team of local artists set to test the beta stage in the next month.

We aim to have the site up and running in summer 2021, with our first online exhibition in September. The site will provide the information-support we originally planned on funding, legals, local services, marketing and much more. On the sales side, we are building an online gallery with over thirty categories of art work which includes a view in a room option, and a soft loan finance system to purchase art. All of which will be promoted with the support of ‘Dirty Martini’, an Exeter based marketing team.

Hil and I still go for long walks. We still have lots of ideas. But for now ArtMakers is our focus, and our goal.

Phil Parker & Hilary Beecroft, Founders of Artmakers